'You can take off now'
SAVOY — So much for theory.
Three days into Aviation 101, Kate Benhoff found herself on the runway sitting on the left side (the pilot side) of a Piper Archer, with the instructor to her right. After some pre-flight instruction, her instructor said something like "you can take off now," prompting something that felt like "the scariest event of my life."
Once they had enough speed, Benhoff took the throttle, pulled back on the yoke and "the next thing I know, we were up in the air."
"It was like when you're a kid and the first time you fly and you get that sinking pit thing in your stomach. But it's awesome," said the Troy native.
More than two years after that first flight on a steamy August day during which she hadn't yet figured out how to work the air vents causing her to come close to vomiting, Benhoff has logged 300 flight hours, 220 of those as a pilot-in-command through the Institute of Aviation.
At the institute, students don't spend months reading textbooks and watching videos before they fly. Their flight time usually comes a few classes in.
"They believe first-hand experience teaches you the fastest. And it does," said Benhoff, who will graduate later this spring.
Want to fly too?
Parkland College officially opened registration to prospective aviation students earlier this week for the coming fall semester. Classes begin the week of Aug. 18; the last day to register is Aug. 12.
Accepting registrations represents a significant step for the community college, following the board's decision last fall to take over the Institute of Aviation from the University of Illinois.
The transfer was welcomed by aviation supporters after university officials in July 2011 decided to shutter the program. UI administrators questioned how the institute fit the campus' mission and, until Parkland signed on in 2013, the future of aviation training in East Central Illinois was unclear.
"A lot of people were upset this program was going to be shut down. People were happy to see it continuing," said Benhoff, who said students and pilots in airports from St. Louis to Chicago would ask her about the latest developments with the program.
"I'm thrilled about it. Alumni are thrilled about it," said Sybil Phillips, the institute's chief pilot. "We're like a family out here. There are some who are still sad about what the university said, that what we do is not part of the university mission. We're glad Parkland College feels we fit into their mission."
"There is a real sense of pride in the program, a real spirit," added Pam Lau, dean of academic services at Parkland.
Among those who fly, the school's orange, white and blue fleet of mostly Piper airplanes is always recognizable, Benhoff said.
Currently, there are no plans to paint over those colors and change them to Parkland's green and yellow, Phillips said.
Under the three-year agreement signed by the college and university last fall, Parkland will lease the institute's facilities, which include classrooms and offices, at Willard Airport in Savoy for $1 a year. The college also has use of the institute's airplanes — 17 single-engine Piper Archers, seven Piper Arrows, three multi-engine Piper Seminoles and two Cessna 152s — and could take over ownership of the fleet in the future.
The agreement also called for the university to provide $250,000 to Parkland for marketing the program. Parkland has also signed a contract with Riverside Research, an international defense contractor with an office in Champaign, to manage the planes, handle maintenance, deal with external vendors like fuel companies and track who's flying airplanes. Riverside will employ five full-time instructors; Parkland will hire part-time instructors. (Phillips will transition from the UI to Parkland.)
College administrators are hoping for 90 students to be enrolled this fall. At its peak in the early 2000s, the institute had 270 students. But campus administration changed acceptance standards and numbers dropped. There are about 65 current students enrolled.
While under the umbrella of the UI, the Institute of Aviation offered, in addition to professional pilot training, bachelor and master's degrees in human factors, which incorporates aviation, industrial engineering and psychology. When the university announced plans to close the institute, it stopped accepting new students, Phillips said.
Starting with the next school year there will be no aviation major at the UI, but just as UI students can now take classes at Parkland, they will be able to take aviation courses there, Lau said.
Beginning this fall, Parkland will offer students a few different options in aviation: private and commercial pilot training certificates and flight instructor certificates; a two-year aviation-related associate's degree in science; and a "Parkland Pathway" program which allows students who meet certain requirements to study first at Parkland and then transfer to the UI, eventually obtaining a bachelor's degree in the College of Engineering, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences or College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES).
For example, a student interested in crop sciences as well as aviation could start at Parkland, then transfer to the College of ACES, Lau said. By the end of their college career, the student could have a pilot's license and a degree in crop sciences.
While studying at Parkland's Institute of Aviation, students also will be able to add certain ratings to those pilot and instructor certificates. They include an instrument rating, which permits pilots to fly in the clouds (otherwise, they have to maintain a certain visibility and distance from the clouds) and a multi-engine rating, which shows the person can pilot multi-engine planes, Phillips said.
While it was under management of the UI, the aviation institute required students who were interested in obtaining private or commercial pilot licenses to apply to the university. Now under the auspices of Parkland, the institute's courses will be more accessible for budding aviators in Champaign-Urbana, Lau said.
"Let's say you're a community member, and you've always wanted to fly. This would be an opportunity to get a private pilot license. Or, if you have gotten one in the past but want an instrument rating, you can do that," Phillips said.
Before, such students had to enroll at the UI. Now they will apply to Parkland, making the aviation courses more accessible to the community, she said.
Students need to apply to Parkland first. In addition to paying Parkland tuition ($131.50 per credit hour), the students must pay a course fee, which varies by course and program. Some financial aid is available.
"It's not selective admissions," Lau said.
But because some additional paperwork is required of students in the aviation programs, there is a special form they must fill out. They also need to pass a medical exam.
The University of Illinois and Parkland College signed off on moving the Institute of Aviation from the university to the community college last fall. Parkland officially opened registration for fall 2014 classes this week. What you need to know:
Students pay Parkland tuition ($131.50 per credit hour) and course fees, which vary. Earning a private pilot's certificate in one year will cost about $14,000. A commercial pilot certificate is more.
— Private pilot and commercial pilot licenses, plus multi-engine and instrument ratings can be added to certificates
— Flight instructor certificate
— Associate's degree in science with emphasis on aviation
— Parkland Pathway program that allows student to transfer to UI to complete a four-year degree
Parkland officials said they hope 90 students enroll in aviation courses for Fall 2014.
The fleet includes single-engine and multi-engine propeller planes at Willard Airport,
The flight school accounts for much of the traffic at the airport. Since January, the institute logged about 2,500 landings there.